I'm actually going to recommend you go over to Michelle Malkin's place and look at the photos. The photos are of the various ill-named "tea parties" that right-wingers have been throwing all around the country.

Now look, it's obvious that I think the people in these photos are either ill-informed or are just suckers for a system that's using them, but their reaction to government action that bothers them is something I celebrate, even if they don't seem to get that their analogy of the tea party is historically inaccurate. I'm a lover of protest, because it shows that people care deeply enough about something to get off their asses or from behind their computers and actually inconvenience themselves to advance something they believe in.

That's why I try to do it myself when I can. Too many times I've satisfied myself by saying that I was doing my part by blogging about something, instead of putting myself out there in public, and I realized that I was only fooling myself. Blogging can only be a small part of any activism--eventually, you've got to get out there and have a presence. Some of these people did it in crappy weather, and for some, no doubt, it was their first experience at public protest, which can be tough.

My first experience with it came during the run-up to the Iraq War, in the fall/winter of 2002 when I was a grad student at Arkansas. I ended my class early and walked over to the big area between the library and the student union, and was surprised by the size of the crowd. Fayetteville, while liberal by Arkansas standards, was still in Arkansas, after all, and I was actually nervous about "coming out" as a liberal, you might say. But after that one, I was hooked, because I saw the power that numbers gives you--not political power, but the feeling that you're not alone.

So even though I think the people protesting the stimulus package are incorrect on the facts and unaware of the potential damage the nation faces if the government doesn't do what it's doing, I celebrate their willingness to put themselves out there and express their feelings on the matter. Good for them.

P.S. Notice I said look at the pictures. The accompanying text is full of the nutballery you'd expect from Malkin. But the pictures are nice, and the signs are, umm, illuminating.

Women can be nerds too

So here's a funny little story about an exercise club in New York that offers light saber classes. (One presumes he's gotten Lucas's blessing on this, given how notoriously anal he is about protecting his intellectual property.) And it's being touted as a weight loss program as well, because it combines fencing and martial arts, which is also probably good.

But then there's this section:

Before you write this off as nothing more than the ultimate nerd-fest for boys, Flynn says that about one-third of the participants in New York groups are women.
Is the writer saying that the women who are taking part in this aren't nerds, that there's something inherent about womanhood that negates nerdiness? Because let me tell you, that's just not so.

I say this as a proud nerd, mind you. I'm not really a Star Wars nerd--I'm more a Trekkie type, and worse, a Voyager fan/DS9 disliker, which puts me in a really small sub-category of Trekkies. The fact that I can differentiate myself in such a way speaks to my nerd cred, I believe. And I know some women who can go toe-to-toe with me in these realms (Amy's one of them--sorry to out you like that, sweetie).

Nerdly women aren't even that unusual, to be quite frank about it. It's just that there's a societal expectation that nerds are supposed to be male (and socially pathetic, but that's another story) and we all know what happens when we try to bust down expectations--lazy people object, because it disrupts their way of seeing the universe.

So even though I'm not the kind of guy to join a health club (at all) that teaches how to fight with a light saber, I applaud those men and women who do so. Wear your nerd colors with pride, masculine or feminine.

Forget "bipartisanship" or "reaching out to the other side." There has been a change of tone in Washington DC, though it's not the type typically discussed by the DC crowd. I'm talking about honest budgets, where wars aren't paid for by emergency funding, or where we're not pretending like the economy isn't crap. And I'm talking about rescinding Bush administration rules with Orwellian names that privilege religious rights over individual rights.

Candidate Obama (unfairly) took some heat for some "present" votes in the Illinois Senate when the matter of choice came up, and there were some political opponents who tried to cast him as less than solid on womens' rights. But his actions as president--repealing the global gag rule, for example--have already shown where he stands on the issue, and this news about the ill-named "conscience rule" will make that even clearer.

Taking another step into the abortion debate, the Obama administration Friday will move to rescind a controversial rule that allows health-care workers to deny abortion counseling or other family-planning services if doing so would violate their moral beliefs, according to administration officials.
Now the article later says that the Obama administration "will consider drafting a new rule to clarify what health-care workers can reasonably refuse for patients." So now our job as activists is clear--let the Obama administration know that any rule that precludes women from being able to get the treatment they deem necessary is unacceptable, than when a woman's health and a medical professional's conscience clash, the person with the heath issue wins, unequivocally, and every time.

Edit: Amy felt I needed to be clearer about some of the specifics here, so I'm adding this. Rescinding the current rule would not change the much older one that allows doctors and nurses to refuse to perform surgical abortions--that one would stay in place. What would be rescinded is the far vaguer rule that the Bush administration put in at the last moment, and which could have extended that conscience rule to include people who clean surgical instruments used in said procedures or pharmacists who don't want to fill lawfully prescribed medications like emergency contraception.

A New Olympic Sport?

Because when I saw this, I assumed that "triple-hopped" was a version of the triple jump. Alas, no. It's Miller Lite's latest ad campaign, an attempt to convince ML drinkers that they're not drinking a bland, inoffensive macro-brew with all the soul of a Backstreet Boys tribute band. I'll let Slashfood take it from here.

I've created a new ad campaign for Miller Lite. It will be their best, most honest yet: Miller Lite is Miller Lite. If you don't know what Miller Lite tastes like, go drink one! They're easy to find. On the flip side, if you regularly drink Miller Lite (or brew Miller Lite), don't be ashamed of it. Everyone who has ever grabbed an ML knew exactly what he or she was getting. And that's fine, it's a matter of personal taste and preference. But don't try to re-frame Miller Lite as something fancy or finely crafted. When I eat Kraft Mac & Cheese, I do it because I'm jonesing for some Kraft flavored mac or trying to save a little cash, not because I'm going to delude myself into pretending its smothered with gruyere and parmigiana reggiano.
I'll give the Miller people this much--at least they acknowledge the fact that beer is supposed to taste like hops, as opposed to the people at Coors, who argue that their light beer is supposed to taste like cold.

No Homo

Somehow I missed out on the "no homo" phenomenon--probably because much as I like hip-hop, my tastes run more toward the less commercial, more political variety. I first heard about it last fall when a student of mine wrote a paper about the term in response to an excerpt from Leslie Savan's book titled Slam Dunks and No-Brainers--good essay, well, as good as a freshman-level can hope to be in general.

But I saw this video on The Rumpus yesterday, and it explained the whole story, and in the meantime, points out an important lesson in trying to use potentially offensive terms in a ironic way. It's worth watching.

Before I begin this mini-rant, I want to say that I'm fairly sure that the US doesn't have a better track record than Britain does in this area, so this should be taken as any sort of self-righteous "US is more sensitive than Britain" thing. But seriously, British parents who are freaking out because a children's tv host has a physical disability need to grow the hell up.

When the BBC hired a pretty young actress to co-host a daily program for toddlers, it never expected viewers to complain that the young woman might give their children nightmares.

“I didn't want to let my children watch the filler bits on the bedtime hour last night because I know it would have played on my eldest daughter's mind and possibly caused sleep problems,” wrote one viewer in an e-mail to the British television network after seeing Cerrie Burnell play games and read children’s stories.

The viewer’s problem? Burnell was born with an incomplete right arm that ends in a stump below her elbow.
First of all, your kids probably aren't going to freak, especially not the small ones, unless you make a big deal out of it. I have some experience in this--Amy's uncle's leg was amputated below the knee, and he has a prosthesis which he enjoys taking off in public. He does it for shock value as much as for comfort, but the fact is that while adults might be a little taken aback by it, little kids are often in awe of it. To them, it's cool that you can detach a leg--they don't have the experience necessary to understand that it's odd.

And frankly, that's what we ought to be working toward--a society that acknowledges disability and makes accomodations for it, but which treats the disabled as full members of society rather than as freaks. And heart attacks over a television network putting a disabled person in full view says a lot about the people having them.

So, new project

As if I don't already have enough on my plate, I've started this, titled "Helen Webster's Diary." Helen Webster is, I believe, a great grandmother of mine, who was a teenager in the 1890s. Beyond that, I know nothing. My grandmother's sister (great-aunt? I can never keep these things straight) found this diary probably ten years ago and photocopied it for everyone in the family who wanted a copy. My sister passed it along to me, as a curiosity of sorts, and it's been sitting in a portable file cabinet ever since. I'd long planned to transcribe it, but frankly, the job seemed overwhelming, especially since the handwriting is small and has gone through the photocopier a few times.

But then I saw this story and was inspired. I'll just start a basic blog and post a new diary entry every day. And I find myself approaching this not as a task, but as a joy. I've had to force myself not to transcribe more than a day at a time, and in fact, I find myself deliberately delaying the transcription so as to increase the pleasure I'm getting from it so far.

I've put three entries up so far, and plan to run this until it's done. It's a way of making the diary more permanent, I guess, and if other people get a kick out of following Helen Webster's diary, that's lagniappe.

Crossposted at Brian Spears

Wrong, wrong, wrong.

The world is changing, the economy is riling, and we're stumbling into a future where people are their own personal corporations, moving from professional affiliation to private enterprise and on to the "next thing," always juggling too many tasks and playing too many roles, required to live their lives creatively and originally, to think without boxes, to anticipate futures, and to match all this hard work and effort with what we in America idealistically call "the pursuit of Happiness."

By this measure, virtually everyone in America should be engaging in a nuanced liberal arts education: learning to be a citizen and a thinker, learning how to live and how to learn to do, learning how to be in the company of mankind, mystery, and history at once. And to find meaning in this. But now is the exact time when people, stupidly, are running into holes and seeking out the University-sponsored equivalent of vo-tech.

...a traditional liberal arts education is, by definition, not intended to prepare students for a specific vocation. Rather, the critical thinking, civic and historical knowledge and ethical reasoning that the humanities develop have a different purpose: They are prerequisites for personal growth and participation in a free democracy, regardless of career choice.

But in this new era of lengthening unemployment lines and shrinking university endowments, questions about the importance of the humanities in a complex and technologically demanding world have taken on new urgency
Everything that follows this is, in my opinion, moot, because the problem is the premise. If the changes in the world are driving people away from the humanities, that is the problem, and someone needs to correct it: people need perspective, wisdom, and the ability to make connections that are both imaginative and reasoned, people need to learn the skills of lifelong learning, creativity, and sense of the human condition, past actions, consequences, and so on. 

But most importantly, people need to remember that humans are not supposed to be cogs in the economy-machine. The economy is supposed to work for us, to make our lives better, more fulfilling, and richer... we are not supposed to be sacrificing our happiness so that this great abstraction "the economy" which is often measured with rulers of our unhappiness (Dow goes up often means employment goes down; greater "productivity" often just means we're all working longer hours; etc.) should thrive at our expense.

Liberal arts education is needed now more than ever -- as the world gets more complex and interconnected, as cultures more frequently must be bridged... we've all seen what the "MBA presidency" brought us: unwise, un-nuanced, uninformed decisions made by persons with the air-tight smugness that comes from never having your pickle twisted by the great conversation, or having your soul touched by the expanses of time and the equally unchartable unknowns. 

So let's stop at paragraph 2 of this complaint and do something about it: young person, study the arts; study the humanities. Be a person first and an employee second. Your life depends on it.

Westley v. Fezzik

reenacted by dog and kitty.



Via Delia

Zombie quality stupid

I fully expect that sometime in 2011, there will be a "documentary" broadcast on whatever the 2011 equivalent of Sinclair Broadcasting is then. The subject? President Barack Obama's citizenship.

A U.S. soldier on active duty in Iraq has called President Obama an "impostor" in a statement in which he affirmed plans to join as plaintiff in a challenge to Obama's eligibility to be commander in chief....

"As an active-duty officer in the United States Army, I have grave concerns about the constitutional eligibility of Barack Hussein Obama to hold the office of president of the United States," wrote Scott Easterling in a "to-whom-it-may-concern" letter.
Great, buddy. You keep having those concerns. President Obama is busy actually doing stuff right now.

I have to assume that the reason behind these claims is an attempt to do to President Obama what many of the same people tried to do to President Clinton--undermine his legitimacy with a wide enough segment of the population so as to make it difficult for him to govern. With Clinton it was an imaginary illegitimate black child, a land deal where he and his wife lost money, drug smuggling into a small Arkansas airstrip, state troopers running interference for him while he fooled around (okay that one might have some legs), and a so-called trail of bodies of people he had killed because they got in his way.

With Kerry, they went after his war record, and they played he-said he-said games that turned a heroic war record into a morass of lies--all told by the Orwellian Swift Boat Veterans for Truth.

With Obama, it's the name and the Kenyan father that makes for the natural target, and since these people don't seem to have anything better to do with their days than spin fantastic stories and file frivolous lawsuits, that's what they're doing. It doesn't matter that the story makes less sense than the plot of the bastard child of National Treasure and The DaVinci Code--the more insane the better for these people. I guess they're banking on the whole "it's so crazy it can't possibly be made up" mindset. I'm amazed that Glenn Beck hasn't had them on yet. Maybe he's waiting until he thinks the time is right.

then this stuff isn't really controversial.

Doctors recommend that all pregnant women be offered screening for Down syndrome, and about half of women undergo the tests. But the current tests often produce confusing, ambiguous results, unnecessarily alarming couples or falsely reassuring them. The new tests are designed to offer more definitive results early in the pregnancy.

But with the first new approach due to become available this spring, the tests are renewing questions about why regulators do not require such innovations to be proved reliable before being offered to the public.

Abortion opponents, meanwhile, fear that the technology may prompt more couples to terminate pregnancies. And advocates for the disabled, noting that couples are often poorly informed about the syndrome, worry that more of them may feel pressured to abort. They also fear a dwindling number of those born with the condition, along with the prospect of increased discrimination against them and their families.
I'm sure that by reducing this discussion to simply a matter of a woman's right to choose, I'll be accused by some of advocating for the abortion of fetuses with Down's Syndrome, so let me put that to rest right now. I'm not. I'm advocating for the ability of pregnant women to make informed decisions about their reproductive health and nothing more. It doesn't make one bit of difference to me whether a woman chooses to abort a pregnancy because the child is going to be developmentally challenged, because she's economically unable to take care of even a healthy child , or because she's just decided that this isn't the time for her to have a child. Hell, if she just wants to do it for fun, that's her call--for me, being pro-choice means that individual women get to choose what they do with their bodies, even if it's something that would make me cringe. Genitalia piercing makes me cringe too, in a completely different way, but I don't think we should outlaw that either.

But it's a situation like the one mentioned in this article that makes choice that much more important. Children are, at the best of times, a handful, even if you have access to plenty of resources. Special needs children are that much more of a handful, and not everyone can handle the challenges that come along with them. And if a woman looks at her situation and says to herself that she can't handle the added burden of a special needs child, who the hell am I to suggest that she has a duty to do so?

I hope that in the near future, medical technology will progress to the point where we can treat fetuses in the womb, where women aren't left with the crappy dichotomy of abortion versus special needs child. But right now, that's often the situation for women facing this reality, which is why it's important to leave this decision in the hands of the people facing the majority of the burden.

Happy Mardi Gras

Get on out there and sin, y'all. And listen to some good music while you're at it. Here's a start.

I don't know what to make of this possibility, except to think that it might be the worst idea ever for a movie, and that's saying something in a world that still contains copies of An American Carol.

IGN says that Universal Pictures has teamed up with Glen A. Larson to create his long-awaited movie on the "Battlestar" franchise which would pick up from his original series and ignore anything that has taken place on the SciFi Channel since 2003. Universal Pictures is owned by NBC Universal, as is the SciFi Channel.
The only upside here--and I'm really stretching to find one--is that maybe Dirk Benedict would be mocked so roundly that he would stop publishing this "essay" every couple of months. Or maybe not--self-awareness isn't his strong suit.

Ooooh, I'm skeered!

It's the next American Revolution. I'd have posted on this silliness earlier, but I've been swamped all day, and it's just as well, because I found all sorts of related nuttery to add in. Michelle Malkin has been "organizing" these protests against the stimulus package and calling them "tea parties," and not in the Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back sense of the term.

As I pointed out in the comments Rick's place, Malkin and her acolytes have the history wrong. The battle cry during the American Revolution was "no taxation without representation." Malkin et al have representation--they just lost the election. After the last eight years of being told that I needed to just deal with the fact that the Republicans had won, I think I'm justified in saying that Malkin and her crew need to put on their big girl and big boy undies and deal.

But no, they're not doing that. No, they're talking revolution, and they're hanging the stupid out there for everyone to get a whiff of.

Obama and the Democratic-controlled Congress, who are so anxious to raise income taxes on the "rich," will be in for a rude surprise. There is nothing Obama can do about people who would rather not work than have the fruits of their labors confiscated, or who structure their lives to avoid taxation.

In addition to protest, supporters of the Tea Party would do well to change their economic behavior to deprive Obama of what he wants most, your tax dollars. Invest in municipal bonds, carefully manage your investments to minimize taxable income, do everything possible and legal to insulate yourself from creating taxable income. In so doing, you will doom Obama's plans because the inability to raise tax revenues will cause Obama to move to more confiscatory tactics, and then the political revolt really will begin, as it has throughout history. Can you say 1994?
I'll give Jacobsen this much--he's right that there's nothing President Obama could do about people who would rather not work. I mean, I'm presuming that said people wouldn't apply for welfare and would be turned down for unemployment benefits--don't want to be sucking off the government teat, after all.

But it's a poster (pseudo)named Florida (of course) in the comments who really goes all in.
If this minority began restructuring their incomes to avoid being taxed ... the government would merely change the laws to tax this group via an alternative route. Do you think the government is merely going to stand for your insolence?

No, they're not going to stand still for it.

Look at California. Republican Governor. Pledged not to raise taxes when he was running. Today ... is raising taxes.

So, you can't avoid this even if you vote Republican. Deck is stacked my man, and you're out of cards.

There's only one way and it's the way of Paul Revere and all of our other forefathers ... be willing to spill tea.

And blood.
Again, to Jacobsen's credit, he says in the very next comment that the last two words are "a step too far," but read the comments that follow--Jacobsen is pretty much alone in that crowd. There's talk about how Florida is only talking about history and how gun and ammo sales are the only strong part of the economy right now and so on.

And this is only one site. Glenn Greenwald posted earlier today about a piece Glenn Beck (who else?) did on Fox News gaming out the next Civil War.
In the segment below, he convened a panel that includes former CIA officer Michael Scheuer and Ret. U.S. Army Sgt. Major Tim Strong. They discuss a coming "civil war" led by American "Bubba" militias -- Beck says he "believes we're on this road" -- and they contemplate whether the U.S. military would follow the President's orders to subdue civil unrest or would instead join with "the people" in defense of their Constitutional rights against the Government (they agree that the U.S. military would be with "the people")
Fortunately, Glenn Beck is the epitome of anti-accurate. Even Bill Kristol can tell you the correct time three times out of five. Okay, two. But ask Beck what time it is and he's liable to say "anal cysts! Guadalcanal! the glebe cow!"

Which is why I'm not sweating all this huff and puff, and am instead treating it with utter contempt and disdain. The military isn't going to defect en masse to overthrow a President a sizable number of them voted for, and the kinds of guys who make up your average militia are more likely to shoot themselves in the feet than take over a town.

And if they wait a couple of years to try, then maybe they can get their wounds treated under a universal health care system.

So a couple of guys on the two edges of the marriage debate in the US have gotten together and hammered out a compromise on same-sex marriage and published it on today's NY Times Op-Ed page. Hurrah! We can all go home now--it's been solved.

Except that their compromise seems to neglect one really important fact--GLBT folks are being still treated as second class citizens, and I'm talking about beyond the whole "it won't actually be marriage" bit.

It would work like this: Congress would bestow the status of federal civil unions on same-sex marriages and civil unions granted at the state level, thereby conferring upon them most or all of the federal benefits and rights of marriage. But there would be a condition: Washington would recognize only those unions licensed in states with robust religious-conscience exceptions, which provide that religious organizations need not recognize same-sex unions against their will. The federal government would also enact religious-conscience protections of its own. All of these changes would be enacted in the same bill....

Further sharpening the conflict is the potential interaction of same-sex marriage with antidiscrimination laws. The First Amendment may make it unlikely that a church, say, would ever be coerced by law into performing same-sex wedding rites in its sanctuary. But religious organizations are also involved in many activities outside the sanctuary. What if a church auxiliary or charity is told it must grant spousal benefits to a secretary who marries her same-sex partner or else face legal penalties for discrimination based on sexual orientation or marital status? What if a faith-based nonprofit is told it will lose its tax-exempt status if it refuses to allow a same-sex wedding on its property?
Before I pick this apart, let me be clear--I think that anything less than full marriage rights is unacceptable. I understand that civil unions might be the reality, and might serve as a stepping stone for a while, but I won't stop agitating until same-sex couples have all the same rights that hetero couples have.

Now, it won't come as a surprise to anyone that I think if we have a conflict between the individual human rights of LGBT citizens and the teachings of religious groups as regards those rights, I'm on the side of the LGBT folks. What it really comes down to is that I respect individual rights over the rights of groups to discriminate against individuals, and that's really how I see it. That example where a church auxiliary or charity that preaches gay-hatred and yet could be forced to recognize a same-sex union for an employee? Don't feel the slightest bit sorry for them. I'd feel the same way if it were a church that condemned cross-racial marriages and wanted to deny a spouse benefits on those grounds. Discrimination is discrimination, and if you want to do it, maybe you need to get someone to do that job on a volunteer basis instead of hiring a person. Or, you know, maybe you could stop being a bunch of hateful douchehounds.

As to the second, about losing tax-exempt status for refusing to marry a same-sex couple, I really don't see it being an issue, but if it is, then perhaps we need to reassess just what church property is being exempted from taxation. If a church owns a hall that it's willing to rent out to people outside the church, for non-church-sponsored activity, then that's not solely a church building anymore. That's commercial property, and the church ought to pay the going tax rate on it. If they want to limit it to only church-sponsored events or rent to church members, and if they want to keep LGBT folks out of their church (and continue to act like hateful douchehounds), they're welcome to do so. But for me, that's the choice.

The problem is that too many churches on the right want to discriminate but also want to get the seal of approval from the federal government, and for too long, the government has been willing to oblige. That's changing, and more quickly than the right-wing half of the above writing team wants to acknowledge.

It's no surprise to me that the less-insane right is looking for compromises on this issue, because they can see the demographic changes--they know this is a loser. It's only the real psychos who think they're going to be able to put gays in jail again soon. So what the less-insane right is trying to do is build a firewall somewhere that will allow them to hold onto the magical word "marriage" for the heteros and keep their license to discriminate in the law, figuring that if the gays get something not quite as good as marriage, lots of their straight allies will back off the issue. And the sad thing is that they're probably right, which is why I'm still pushing for full and complete marriage rights. Because any compromise that leaves LGBT couples without the same rights I have is a loss.

Missing Mardi Gras

Last night, we spent the evening helping a friend of ours celebrate the finalization of her divorce, and we have the subsequent headaches to prove it. While we were at this fine unnamed establishment, the announcer on the radio mentioned that at some live event this coming Tuesday, they would be celebrating both Fat Tuesday and Mardi Gras, which I found quite amusing, to say the least.

Of the various religious holidays on offer during the year, Mardi Gras is the only one I really have an affinity for, mostly because I wholeheartedly approve of the attitude behind it. For those who don't know, the idea behind Mardi Gras is that it's the last day of debauchery before you have to straighten up and be good for the 40 days of Lent. Of course, for a debauched atheist like me, Lent is just the next 40 days on the calendar, so I'm just into Mardi Gras because it's a bigger party than usual.

But there's something heartening about the fact that, at least at some point in the Church's history, the powers-that-were recognized that it was, well, unnatural to deny oneself the pleasures of life, and that if one were to do that for forty days, well, then one should spend at least the first seven in recovery from the bodacious party you had going into it. If repentance will take 40 days, might as well have a whole lot to repent for, no?

There are two groups who have ruined a lot of what I love about Mardi Gras in recent years, and since I won't be anywhere near New Orleans for it this year, I'm going to vent a little about them. The first is the Girls Gone Wild crowd and everyone like them. Believe it or not, Mardi Gras wasn't always a get-your-grope-on fratboy festival. Yeah, there was nudity, and yeah, there was a chance that you might get to see some public sex acts when you hit an alley or two, but it was nothing like what is has become. It was basically a chance for a lot of repressed people--generally because they were putting on a show for the folks back home--to get out and get a little dirty for once. And the GGW crew (along with all their copycats) really changed the feel by removing the consequence-free atmosphere from the party. So those guys can go to hell.

But the other group is even worse--they're the people who want to make Mardi Gras a family-friendly occasion, who want to make it a child-safe environment. Sorry, but if you're one of these people, then you need to read that section on the purpose of Mardi Gras again, and then find a babysitter for your little rugrats, because kids have already gotten their dirty little fingers on every other damned holiday, and there's no way they're ruining this one for me. Mardi Gras is supposed to be about public drunkenness, and nudity (for all sexes), and licentiousness. It's about doing stuff that makes you feel like you ought to repent for forty days, dammit, and you can't do that sort of stuff around kids.

Mardi Gras is next week, and while I may be in Florida, I'm going to be doing my best to make sure that the New Orleans spirit is alive and well down here. If you have kids, best lock them in their rooms, because it's liable to get a little ugly. Laissez les bon temps roulez, y'all.

So there are no CEOs in President Obama's cabinet. Given the near non-stop instances of criminal behavior and bad decision making to come out of the CEO corps for the last twenty years or so, whether it involved ridiculous overspending, insensible business plans, bubble inflation or outright fraud, I tend to think that leaving CEOs out of the Cabinet might just be a good thing. But there's one piece in this article I want to address in particular.

Still, some long-time White House observers find it noteworthy that when Obama convenes his best minds, there will be few people who have answered to shareholders as well as voters — people who know by intuition how the business community is likely to react to any given day’s news.
Here's the big lie--that CEOs are answerable to their shareholders. They're not, not in any real sense anyway. CEOs are answerable to their Boards, but the number of CEOs who have walked away from their companies with huge compensation packages after having run said companies into the ground are proof enough that they're not beholden to the shareholders, because shareholders would have strung some of these people up by their nads well before they were eventually shown the door.

And really, how unique (and how valuable) is the ability to suss out how the business community is going to react to the day's news? Again, part of the reason we're in our current economic fix is because we've focused on the short term instead of the long term.

Now it's true that all CEOs are not the same, and that some, perhaps many, have had the long term interests of their companies in mind, and those folks, I would say, would be perfect for the Obama administration, should he choose to tap that source of talent. But there's nothing inherently notable about being a CEO that should make him or her a good Cabinet member, so if President Obama doesn't have one in his Cabinet, I don't see why that's a big deal.

Via Memeorandum

I want to do this

Seriously. Maybe this has been going on in publishing for a while now and I've just missed it, but this is cool. It's a chapbook of poetry by Matthew Hittinger, a poet who currently lives in New York, and who I was on a panel with at AWP some years ago in Austin.

Here's the thing--and you really have to click on the link to get a feel for this, because I can't find a way to embed it here without breaking the page and my description is going to be crappy--it gives everything but the tactile sensation of a book, complete with layout and animated page turning, and you also get the poet reading (in this case) his work for you. And the aural experience of poetry is a big deal for me--word sound and enunciation and pauses can really make a poem come alive in a way that simply seeing it on the page might lack. (Mind you, there are some readers who make you long for the printed version--there's a lot of performance involved in reading poetry.) And Matthew, at least in what I've listened to thus far, does a solid job of reading his work.

The poems are pretty good too. Check it out. Oh, and if you like the book and want that tactile experience, you can buy it too.

An Oral History of Kink

There's a piece up at the top of The Rumpus that part of a new series that Stephen Elliott is working on. He calls them "oral histories," and the piece up right now is from a porn performer who goes by the name Lorelei Lee. It's a fascinating piece, and a fairly no-holds barred look at the porn industry from the perspective of a performer. Here's a taste:

The first sex work I ever did I was 19. It was mostly photos of me stripping and fake masturbating. Then I made this recording pretending that I was talking about about the first time that I gave a blow job or something. The guy who did that shoot now owns Naughty America. It’s a huge porn company and they have like twelve websites. I was 19 and he was 18 and just starting. Now he has a million dollars and I don’t.

Then I moved to San Francisco. I worked in a coffee shop for two years, quit, and started posing naked for anyone who would hire me.
Go read it all.

Timothy Egan notes in the NY Times that yesterday was Wallace Stegner's 100th birthday. I must confess that I learned more about Stegner in that column than I did in the two years I held a fellowship he helped found and which carried his name, so let me make up for it by thanking his memory here.

I owe a tremendous debt to Wallace Stegner and his fellowship. Without it, I'd probably never have lived in San Francisco, and it's doubtful I'd have the job I currently hold. I never would have met the people I met out there, which means my life would be much less rich than it is. And I'm not just talking about the writers--I'd probably never have worked at Anchor Brewing, met Fritz Maytag and Chris Solomon, and all the rest. I'd never have discovered the beauty in Old Potrero rye whiskey, or seen the sun come up over the Bay, walked the Golden Gate Bridge in both sun and fog, seen Barry Bonds hit his 700th home run, watched antique smut at the Red Vic theater in the Haight. I'd never have played in a real band, even if I was only the backup rhythm guitarist.

But then there were the writers--teachers like W. S. DiPiero and Ken Fields and Eavan Boland. I met Thom Gunn not long before he died, and saw why people like to see Billy Collins read, even if they aren't wild about his poetry. And my peers--poets with whom I'm still in contact both personally and through their work, people I respect and admire and care for on a personal level.

I'd never have been on C-SPAN's BookTV, and by extension, wouldn't now be poetry editor of The Rumpus, since Stephen Elliott is responsible for both those things, and I met him through the Stegner Fellowship.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that I owe a huge chunk of my present life to Wallace Stegner, and I've been remiss in not reading his work. I'm going to rectify that, starting today. Happy Birthday, Mr. Stegner.

Dear Pope Benedict,

Please please please continue showing us how irrelevant you are to the daily life of even those people who claim to follow your teachings.

Pope Benedict, underscoring the Vatican's ruling on an issue that divides Americans, told U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Wednesday that Catholic politicians and legislators cannot back abortion rights.
.......
"His Holiness took the opportunity to speak of the requirements of the natural and moral law and the Church's consistent teaching on the dignity of human life from conception to natural death ..." a Vatican statement said.
See, Pope--I can call you Pope, right?--you can talk all you want about how the Church frowns on contraception and abortion, but in the end, the Catholic Church doesn't really determine policy stances. I mean, you can have an effect if a politician is beholden enough to the limited number of conservative Catholics who actually listen to those prohibitions, and I suppose you can try to wave your magic excommunication stick at politicians who ignore your grand pronouncements (though that power's been blunted by your decision to readmit a Holocaust denier into the church), but chances are that if there are politicians who are threatened by that, they're not Democrats anyway.

Don't get me wrong--there are lots of Catholic Democrats, but they're not the dominant force in the party, and elected Democrats who happen to be Catholic have bigger constituencies to worry about than the small number of ultra-conservative Catholics who are actually concerned about this sort of thing. Pelosi has way more pro-choice supporters than she has anti-choice Catholics who might desert her for a challenger.

So go ahead and wave your Pope stick around and try to boss our politicians around. When you fail, it'll make you look even smaller by comparison.

I welcome news stories that call attention to the uninsured and underinsured, because a smart country can't continue with the most expensive and ineffective health care "system" in the world.


But this story in the NYTimes brings the bile up in my throat: it consistently calls the young uninsured ("in the parlance of the industry" it admits), "young invincibles." 

This is a fine bit of framing: it implies quite neatly that these uninsured are simply headstrong and foolhardy, as the young are wont to be, and their lack of insurance is a symptom of their own failure to see that they may get sick someday.

It's sales language, in other words, designed to convince that rare person who can afford insurance but prefers to spend the money on extended snowboarding trips that he's being foolish and ought to splash out the cash. (And that description does seem to fit the last fellow they found to interview for the article.)

But why are they using this "parlance of the industry" throughout the article when the vast majority of people they speak to (and the vast majority of the uninsured) are people who seem very aware of their own mortality, who in some cases have serious and persistent health problems like asthma and diabetes, and who cannot afford America's overpriced private insurance?

These are people who are enduring huge risks with their heath, self-medicating, stretching out their medicines, and, when something does happen, being saddled with huge debts they can't pay (which of course means the debt will end up in the bills of others -- in fact, part of the reason they can't pay is because their bills are inflated, in part to fatten for-profit hospitals bottom lines, but in part because previous patients couldn't pay):
Alanna Boyd, a 28-year-old receptionist, recalled [...] the $17,398 — including $13 for the use of a television — that she was charged after spending 46 hours in October at Beth Israel Medical Center in Manhattan with diverticulitis, a digestive illness. “I could have gone to a major university for a year. Instead, I went to the hospital for two days.”
That seems a bit excessive, no?

Personally, right now, I have great insurance. But there was a time between college and my current job when I was uninsured and certainly not because I thought I was "invincible": at the time we were working hard and spending very little, and insurance was not a part of my job, nor was it affordable. I never took other people's medications, but I did put off going to a doctor too long when I had a bad ear infection, greatly overpaid to see her when I did ($150), and was prescribed antibiotics I couldn't afford (over $100) -- which, incidentally, didn't work, but I couldn't afford to go back and try again.

When I got my current job, with insurance, I went to a GP who couldn't see the problem ($15). She sent me to an ENT ($20) who literally got into my ear and "fixed" it. (There was a tear in my eardrum so small and so close to the edge of the eardrum, the GP hadn't been able to see it.) To treat the underlying infection, the ENT prescribed me antibiotics. When I went to pick them up, the pharmacist, joking, told me it was $100. I started to hand over my card -- I was thinking, "thank goodness I have a better job now and can afford this" -- but he stopped me. He was joking, he said, a bit disturbed that I hadn't noticed. My prescription, because I had insurance, was only $10. 

This insurance I have costs me just over $100/month, in part because my employer helps pay for it, but in part because I'm in a very large pool of participating employees -- I work for the state of Florida. Imagine how cheap it would be if that pool included everyone in the entire country? But that's not the primary reason to do it. Hell, I'm for universal single-payer insurance even if it were to double my own personal costs (which it wouldn't), because it's immoral and dangerous for all of us to have millions of Americans suffering through and being overcharged in this way.

Please stop calling them by terms "in the parlance of the industry": the industry wants money and frames things in such a way as to get it. Uninsured Americans are no more or less wise than insured Americans -- the only difference between them and me is a good, government job... a bit of luck... that's it.


That Michelle Malkin is a right-wing psycho is not a secret, but she tries to maintain a veneer of respectability, and a few allies on the right side of the corporate media help her to maintain that illusion. So it's with some amusement that I see she's defending herself after taking a picture with a guy holding a sign that links President Obama to Adolf Hitler by basically saying left-wing nutballs did it to Bush.

Let me clue you in on something, Ms. Malkin--those people who compared Bush to Hitler? They were the nutballs. They weren't the mainstream of liberal thinking over the last 8 years. They were the people that the activist community--the nutroots, as you refer to them--were constantly telling to shut up because they weren't helping. I mean, the example that most right-wingers like to cite in this argument are the two commercials that morphed Bush into Hitler that were entered into MoveOn's contest. Remember--MoveOn is supposed to be the embodiment of left-wing nutjobbery, and those commercials were voted down by the membership of the community. That's hardly an embracing of the comparison.

But you seem to be embracing, if not the comparison, at least the people who are making it.



Equivalency fail.

Floridians, I need a favor

That the Florida economy blows is no secret, and that our legislature has a hard-on for smacking around higher education is well known, but I'm going to as you to do something for me. The cuts that are expected to come down from Tallahassee are going to be monstrous, and this is on top of cuts from the last two years in a row. We're at the point where people will be losing their jobs next, because there's nowhere else to go. So I'm asking you to contact your state Senators and Representatives and ask them to find a way to avoid any further cuts. We're not even asking for more money here--we're just asking to hold onto what we have.

The UFF sent out a letter to its members today, and I'm reprinting the majority of it here. Feel free to pull from it for your emails or letters or phone calls to your state legislators--I'm sure the UFF won't mind.

I am writing to urge you to support higher education in Florida in the upcoming legislative session, specifically by working against further erosion of funding levels for the state’s universities. The arguments for this request are compelling. They are as follows:

The fastest way out of a recession, leaving Florida with a stronger workforce than when the recession began, is to increase funding for higher education. When people are unemployed, they need access to higher education so they can upgrade their credentials and skills and emerge ready for a better job. Without education, workers emerge from a recession less able to contribute to the workforce, pay taxes, and support themselves without reliance on social programs.

If students seeking to enroll are denied access in a recession, they join the ranks of the unemployed – swelling joblessness. If students who are already enrolled cannot get the classes they need for graduation, they waste time and money as they seek their degrees.

The student-faculty ratio in Florida is now the worst in the nation for universities – we rank fiftieth. Public colleges have 50,000 new students this year with no additional full-time faculty to teach them. More cuts mean more faculty layoffs, fewer classes, and fewer qualified faculty to teach essential subjects.

The quality of higher education is already in jeopardy. The staffing necessary to run programs is on the brink of collapse after a brain drain that has lasted several years. The annual turnover rate in the universities is currently 14%. This means the range of courses students need to complete a degree, with faculty qualified and ready to teach specialized courses, is in peril.

For two decades funding for higher education has been shrinking as a portion of the state’s budget. The result is that programs are stretched to their limits. Since September 2007, Florida’s universities have suffered cuts of 11.4% ($425 million) and public colleges have been cut 12.8% ($153 million) in program and lottery funds. Further cuts will force layoffs of faculty and a collapse of many programs. In other words, students who are enrolled at a Florida university and have made financial sacrifices for an education will have to defer their aspirations.

We can fund higher education (with no more cuts) by closing tax loopholes and rescinding tax giveaways. New revenue comes from everyone paying a fair share of taxes which are then invested in Florida’s economy and in the future of students. If the 2009 Legislature cannot agree on how to pass this legislation, then it should pass a temporary sales tax increase until legislators can agree on tax reform.
I appreciate any help you can give.

Sometimes Fair Use Blows

My first year students have been struggling with a section from Kwame Appiah's Cosmopolitanism for the last couple of weeks, and I've been having trouble helping them translate it into matters they can grasp, but I think I might have found an inroad.

I'm assuming that most of you haven't read the book, but the section I'm teaching deals with cultural patrimony, and one part in particular talks about a culture's desire to control its cultural property, especially as it pertains to intellectual property law, can actually cause the culture to disappear and become less relevant to the wider cultural conversation. For instance, if an aboriginal culture was able to restrict the use of the music of their culture to only those people who would agree to use it in a particular way, that culture would likely find itself losing the very thing it was trying to protect. By trying to keep their culture "pure," they very well might kill it off, instead of introducing it to a new generation of people who might embrace it.

Now you'd think that a generation raised in the age of sampling would be able to grasp this notion of taking a work of art and transforming it into something else, but sadly, it hasn't quite taken hold. Maybe it's because the notion of using other peoples' art has become ubiquitous--maybe it's because they're just young and clueless, I don't know--but when they do get it on some small level, they tend to look at it as an unabashed good. That's probably my fault, as the examples I've come up with have been positive ones--the Shepard Fairey Obama poster got a little recognition, for example.

But I think I've found a good counter-example.



This is the video of the Bank of America/Washington Mutual meeting, and that's two utterly clueless bank employees singing the praises of the merger to the tune of U2's "One." I found it at The Rumpus a few days ago, and I didn't know what to do with it until I saw the first comment, which suggested that Bono should sue.

But he can't--this is an example of Fair Use, so far as I can tell. The same rules apply to this that apply to Weird Al Yankovic (though I'm far fonder of Weird Al than I am of these guys). If the Bank of America wanted to release this as a single--and their management might still be bad enough to consider it--then all they'd have to do is license the composition, and Bono couldn't do anything to stop it. The concept of Fair Use includes having people take our art and transform it in ways we (or our fans) might not like, but the tradeoff is that we get to take things we find weird or quirky or even banal and use them to create our own work. That's how art helps cultures which might otherwise disappear from public view gain an audience of appreciators. That's a deal I'll make every time.

Target Women




There's also one on online dating, but the chocolate one is funnier, I think.

And it seems he's still subject to the same disease that has infected the party since the rise of the Grover Norquist wing--no matter the problem, the solution is always to cut taxes.

The Republican governor's goals for the spring lawmaking session include no fewer than four separate tax proposals that would go before voters on the 2010 ballot, when Crist himself would be seeking voters' favor as a candidate for reelection as governor or for the U.S. Senate.

The total taxpayer savings -- or cost to all local governments and schools statewide -- could weigh in at roughly $600 million, according to preliminary staff estimates and prior analyses of similar proposals to help homeowners, and cap and limit local-government taxation.
Bolding mine, because that's the important thing here (and I'm glad the Herald included it). We've already slashed public services to ridiculous levels here in Florida, we've cut property taxes twice since Crist took office, and the economy is still struggling, but Crist and his buddies in the legislature, never content to stop digging when in a hole, want to do more of the same. Why? Brilliant Republican logic, of course.
Echoing other Republicans, Sen. Mike Fasano of New Port Richey said Florida would have been in worse shape without the tax cuts. He said people need more.

"People are hurting, and it's just unfair to increase their property taxes when their property values fall," said Fasano, a sponsor of the tax-cut measure.
Yes, the old "it would have been worse if we had done nothing" attitude. Funny how that only seems to count for their ideas, huh? If, for instance, the national economy is still struggling in 2010, I doubt that Republicans will accept that reasoning from Democrats. But I digress.

The point is that when people are struggling, it's also a bad idea to cut funding from programs that help them out in hard times. It's also important to remember that the government of Florida is supposed to represent all of us, not just property owners. We all pay sales taxes; we all pay fees; we all pay tolls when we use the turnpike; and we all deserve the same quality of government. If Crist and the Republicans want to spread the pain a bit, I'm all for that--institute a small income tax. That's the most progressive tax in the book. Make it a trade-off--property owners get a little relief and we all share the burden a bit more.

But that won't happen with this set of Republicans, and with Charlie Crist, in charge, because they don't actually want government to work. Oh, Crist will hug the President and stretch his hands out for the billions in aid from the federal coffers, because he'd like to argue that he was able to cut taxes as well as keep services going, but he's no different from the rest of them, except on the optics. Scratch Charlie Crist and you get Grover Norquist, and we can't afford that kind of governor.

Stranger Than Fiction

In sum:

  1. A human woman gave birth to 8 babies.
  2. All 8 were born normal and healthy.
  3. People were very upset at the fertility clinic that made this happen.
  4. People learned that woman already had 6 children, and so now has 14, and that she is a single mom who has created her whole brood from donated sperm -- people grew even more upset.
  5. People began to muse about whether she were white or non-white, and theorized that she would be hailed if white and condemned if non-white.
  6. People discovered she was white; theory proved incorrect.
  7. NBC finds a plastic surgeon willing to say that the mom-of-14 has had plastic surgery to better-resemble Angelina Jolie, who only has 6 kids (overshot the mark?)
  8. The woman with (now) 14 kids hired a publicist and began soliciting donations online.
  9. The publicist began receiving death threats, and both she and the mom-of-14 went into hiding.
  10. The publicist quit.

Now this is theater. What will happen next? I'm at the edge of my seat over here. Anything could happen. And this is only the first chapter. There are 14 more characters we've yet to get-to-know!

Just kidding, of course. Seriously, can people lay off this woman? I'm pretty sure I wouldn't want to be her shopping buddy either, but death threats? All she did was make some dumb choices and have too many kids -- it happens all the time, and that usually doesn't inspire people to make death threats.
...they contacted the Los Angeles Police Department, and officers told them that the threats were the worst they had seen since the O.J. Simpson case, Killeen said.

"The American public have just lashed out," she said.
They have lashed out. But why? Well, I didn't get the OJ thing, and I don't get this either. But it's pretty baffling. The story itself is high drama. What I don't understand is why this woman is a target for hate instead of amusement or pity.

Delay delay delay

The Miami City Commission can keep holding off on making a decision about the Marlins' stadium for the next five years as far as I'm concerned.

The Miami-Dade County Commission was on deck to consider the proposal but never met. The Marlins had hoped for final approval of plans calling for a stadium projected to open in 2012 that would cost $515 million, with the public paying $361 million.
I'm an unabashed baseball fan, and since I've lived in south Florida, I've become a casual fan of the Marlins, but even if I were hardcore, I'd still oppose what's put in the bold above.

It's simple, really. Public financing of sports arenas is a sucker's bet, because the public never gets out of it what they've put in. I mean, if the city were going to get the lion's share of revenue from the stadium, after footing the bill for more than half the cost of construction (not to mention the increased burden on local infrastructure), and the Marlins were in essence renting the stadium, then maybe I'd be less opposed. But this deal is just like every other deal in Major League cities with publicly financed stadiums. The city or state puts up the money, the team owns, for all practical purposes, the stadium, and the city gets back, ummm, some vague promise of revenues based on job creation numbers that never seem to pan out as good as the team claimed they would. No thanks.

Look, people who own major league baseball teams aren't stupid. They know that, while they can make tons of money by financing their own stadiums--just ask Peter Magowan how his pocketbook looked for the first few years after opening his stadium in downtown San Francisco, without any taxpayer funding--they can make even more if they don't have to come out of pocket with the cash. It's Bush-economics all over again--socialize the costs, privatize the profits.

I have no problem with capitalism as an economic theory, or even in practice, so long as it's regulated to protect the rights of individuals and workers. But this isn't capitalism, because capitalism involves risk, and the team owners aren't taking any risks when they get a city to sign off on a deal like this. Their profits are guaranteed--they've gotten the public to add value to their product without having to take any chances whatsoever (because if they try to sell the team later, the stadium is included in the valuation). It's corporate welfare, plain and simple. And while I don't mind giving money to people who might otherwise starve without it, I have a problem giving it to corporations who are only looking to further enrich themselves at public expense.

Shameless self promotion

The official awards page is up for the Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg prizes, and I'm on the list. It's a poem that grew out of my visit to see my daughter graduate from high school last year, so that makes it feel a little more special.

Congrats to everyone who won, particularly to my personal friends Alison Pelegrin and Robin Ekiss.

The only downside of this contest, as far as I'm concerned, is that I can't enter it anymore. I snuck in under the age restriction this past year--by one day--and so am now officially too old to be considered for this prize. Same goes for the Yale Series of Younger Poets. Ah, that's when you know you've officially hit middle age--when contests won't take your entry fees anymore.

The Immigration Solution

What is America without immigrants? I'm picturing India's biggest global competitor, an upstart economy with an impressive system of buffalo slaughtering and processing plants supplying Cherokee-speaking schools with low-cost lunchmeat. Or something.

In other words, not European. A nation of immigrants has a moral duty to welcome other immigrants, does it not? Or at least not discriminate against them. But you can't have half the world show up in one country looking for a job and expect things to go well, either.

As this editorial points out, illegal immigration is the magic ticket of unscrupulous businesses -- it keeps labor costs low and laborers subservient. It's hard to blame an individual for doing everything he can to better his situation, and better his family's situation, by finding better-paying work wherever he can find it. But this isn't always about individuals -- it's also about economies and systems and how one group coming in to work for low pay with no rights reduces the ability of all people to get good pay and have their rights respected.

We don't want to persecute people who are working hard and doing what is, in the big picture, the most moral thing, even if it is illegal. But we can't let them come.

The solution, of course, is simple: persecute businesses that hire them. Businesses caught hiring illegally should be fined out of existence and replaced by businesses that hire Americans and legal residents. If there are no jobs waiting for illegal immigrants, they'll stop coming.

The issue gets clouded because there are a lot of people who are biased against poor, different-looking, different-speaking people. It's a barrier we went through once before, with slavery: lots of people knew that slavery was wrong and that the slaves themselves were not to blame, but, durn it, they just didn't like black people. So that "complicated" their vision: they saw scary hoards that needed to be controlled instead of a system that needed to be changed.

We have a similar problem now: people allow their "fear" of immigrants to cloud their vision: instead of seeing a system that needs fixing, they see a great moral dilemma about where people "belong," and what's "ours" and "theirs," and people "taking over," and "stealing jobs," and so on.

But if businesses are policed and punished severely for trying to benefit from the modern equivalent of slave labor, they will stop hiring illegals. And if men and women looking for a better life see no opportunities in North America, they won't take on the danger, expense, and inconvenience of coming here. And if you offer American teenagers summer work picking tomatoes for minimum wage, they will pick tomatoes. And if you pay Americans to work in slaughterhouses, those slaughterhouses will become safer and more humane, because workers who have rights will not put up with less.

Now: what would happen if we redirected the money being pissed away on useless border fences and inevitably inadequate border guards and used it to hire job police: police who investigate businesses suspected of hiring illegal immigrants? We'd have to refine the law: who's responsible when a meat processing plant is peopled by Central American Indians? The guy who did the hiring? The owner? Both? We have to figure that out. But so long as the penalties are heavy and swift, we can fix this problem.

America needs jobs. We're hearing it every day. I say the jobs are right here. We just can't get all confused and start persecuting poor people who are just trying to do the best they can for themselves and their families -- we have to prosecute greedy business owners trying to inflate their bottom lines with something close to 21st Century slavery.

Friday YouTubing

I stopped doing the random tens a few weeks ago and haven't really missed it, to be honest, but I do like having some sort of weekly tradition, so I'm going to try this for now and see how it goes. This week's offering is what happens when you combine Doctor Who, Eminem, and "Yakety Sax." Yeah, it scores pretty high on the weird-shit-o-meter.



Still waiting for someone to do a video of the Thundercats doing a version of Monty Python's "Lumberjack Song." You know--"I'm a Thundercat, and I'm okay." Somebody run with that.

Happy Birthday, Chuck

It's the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin's birth today, so I suspect there will be more talk than usual about him. I'm adding in my two cents insomuch as I'm linking to this nice piece by Olivia Judson on Darwin and how much he meant to the study of biology in particular.

And also, I wanted to link this bit--a blast from the past, you might say.

Rumpus Time

My review of Dan Albergotti's The Boatloads just went up at The Rumpus. Here's a taste:

I have a special place in my heart for literature that juxtaposes the sacred and profane, that challenges perhaps the most successful meme ever to spring from the human brain: the belief that God is unwaveringly good.

That’s the matter at the heart of Dan Albergotti’s first collection of poems, The Boatloads, winner of the 2007 A. Poulin Jr. Poetry Prize. The one constant in The Boatloads is doubt—doubt about God’s benevolence, about His existence, about the speaker’s worthiness of the blessings he has received—and in a world where certainty is fleeting, doubt plays an increasingly pivotal role.
More here.

Shakespeare on Facebook

Via Culture Industry, the Facebook meme that I've been successfully resisting: 25 random things about yourself. Only this one is Shakespeare, and fairly well done. A sample:

11 When I am happy I call Anne my Kicky-wicky. When I am cross I call her “Olde Fun Killer Hag-Ass.”

12 I keepe my Stashe hidden in our seconde best bedde. Shhh. Don’t tell the Fyve-Oh.

13 The people that loue my Wordes the best are always the most disappointed vpon meeting me. Is thisse List ouer yet?

14 On the topic of dating, my daughter Susanna loues to remind me: ~Jvliet was only thirteen! And I remind her that i) she was Italian, an impulsive race ii), she was actually played by a middle-aged Eunuch named Ned, and iii) she died. That always shvts her right vp.
I love having the internet again.

No, I'm not talking about my ongoing travails with AT&T, though I'm certainly feeling it at this point. I'm talking about this piece, which has received a fair amount of mockery around the toobz. And I have to admit I was tempted--a poem which talks about being addicted to masturbation, which has the deliciously horrible lines "Like a crack addict / addicted to crack, / I am addicted to myself," is low-hanging fruit, and that's the ballpark I tend to play in.

But I couldn't bring myself to do it, because twenty-two years ago, I could have written that poem. And I'd probably have written it just as badly.

I can't mock this poem or the poet because I get too angry at the closed-minded and anti-sex attitudes that put this guy in the position where he's feeling this tormented by a normal and natural act. I get angry because I remember feeling the same sentiment this poet describes.

Saying what I need to say to maintain my front.
"Aw, you're such a good brother."
Constant compliments from brothers and sisters
Add on to my guilt.
Soon as I get to church I am well greeted.
"Welcome, brother."
That was me--putting on the show and feeling miserable for it. Remembering that feeling was a big part of the reason why, once I was officially kicked out of the church, I didn't try to put on a front to become a member again so as to avoid the shunning my family was expected to do. I wasn't going to pretend anymore. I wasn't going to lie about who I was or what I believed or the life I was living. I refused.

So I get mad at churches who tell kids that they're sinning when they masturbate, or when they experiment sexually. I get mad when churches act like being gay is a choice, and is something you can decide not to be anymore. I get mad at churches when they convince people that they are lower than worms because they're acting on completely normal, reasonable desires, because they're doing incredible harm to those peoples' self-esteem and sense of well-being. And if this matters to you--it doesn't to me--when it comes to masturbation, they're basing it on the flimsiest of Scriptural injunctions.

But in the meantime, they're causing real harm to the psyches of the people they're hammering with this message. The guilt these people feel may be based on something silly, but it's real guilt all the same, and there's real heartache being suffered as a result. And for no good reason.

All I Can Muster



Sorry--just buried under work and limited internet access. Hopefully, we'll get it back at home today and maybe I can get a blog post in, but for now, this is all I can handle.

It's a Florida Thing

Can't think of a better way to make my return to the intertubes than with this story.

FEBRUARY 5--A Florida man was arrested yesterday after he was spotted fondling and making out with a pair of blow-up dolls in a supermarket parking lot. Shoppers called cops when they spotted George Bartusek, 51, getting busy in the front seat of his 1998 Lincoln Town Car, which was parked directly in front of a Publix store.
I guess he figured he was never going to have a million dollars. I'd embed that clip, but I can't.

Oh, and AT&T still sucks.

AT&T can DIAF

I'm posting this from Amy's iPhone because AT&T shut off our DSL by mistake on Friday but can't restore it--they claim--before Tuesday. Accordingto their tech people, it's real easy to shut someone off, but not to reconnect them, especially on a weekend. Sounds like either poor system design or the arrogance of a company which knows it has little in the way of competition to worry about. Convenient for them--not so much for us. But hey, we're just customers. No need to make us happy, right?

Fair Districts Florida

The ACLU of Florida has teamed up with Fair Districts Florida to try to reduce gerrymandering on both the state and federal level. There are two petitions available for download and signing. I'm signing both and I encourage everyone to do the same.

A couple of things--this is for Florida registered voters only, so don't fill them out if you don't qualify. Secondly, it's not enough just for individuals to sign. We have to get others to sign. Ask your friends and family and get them to sign both. If you can, do some canvassing, and if you have a blog or are a regular commenter elsewhere, spread the word. Link the pdf. Get people to sign.

Look, Florida voted pretty solidly for Obama last November, but we made almost no gains in either the Florida legislature or in the Congressional delegation, and that's due, in part, to gerrymandering. And frankly, there are times when the Congresspeople we have representing us aren't really concerned about the desires of their constituents, because they're in safe seats. If we make them work for it a little, they might listen to us a bit more.

There's really no downside, as far as I'm concerned. And this is the time to do it--the census is in 2010, and that's when redistricting generally occurs. Let's make the state make it fair.

Sweet schadenfreude

I try not to indulge too often, this is just too good.

The News Corporation, the media empire controlled by Mr. Murdoch, said Thursday that it lost $6.4 billion in its second quarter as profit fell sharply at its television and movie units. The company also took a large write-down of $8.4 billion, about $3 billion of which reflected a decline in the value of the company’s newspaper unit, which includes Dow Jones, the publisher of The Wall Street Journal. Many media analysts believed that News Corp. overpaid when it bought Dow Jones just over a year ago for about $5 billion, and the write-down indicates that it lost significant value.
Poor Rupert. Must be tough. Your conservative ideals have taken a beating in the marketplace of public opinion, and your companies are feeling the pain as well. So sad.

Via Balloon Juice:

“I don’t believe there’s two sides to every story. It’s black and white,” Wurzelbacher explained. “There’s right and wrong.”
Which is, of course, two sides, even for Republicans.

Joe's right, in a roundabout sort of way. I don't believe there are two sides to every story either. Usually there are way more than two--the world's a complex place, no matter what idiots like Joe-the-not-quite-sentient like to believe. And when it comes to solving problems, often there are multiple ways to get there, all of them more or less "right."

Of course, what Joe means is that there's his way and then everything else that might contradict him, which is, in his view, the wrong way. Must be something to live in such ignorant bliss, never questioning your worldview, never seeing any situation as so complex that it might take more than a gut feeling to find your way through. At least when Stephen Colbert does it, it's an act. Joe apparently lives his life that way, and that's sad. I'd pity him if he weren't such a jerk about it.

Sheriff Leon Lott must not be swamped with cases, and must not be feeling the effects of the economic downturn, worrying about cuts to his department or anything like that, because he's got his eyes set on far more important issues.

Michael Phelps.

"The bottom line is, if he broke the law, and he did it in Richland County, he's going to be charged," [police spokesperson] Cowan said. "And there's no difference between Michael Phelps and several other people that we arrest for the same type of a charge everyday."
Except, of course, that Phelps is crazy-famous and such an arrest would get you all sorts of publicity that you would never get otherwise, and given that your department is run by a guy who rose to his current position by playing either Sonny Crockett or Rico Tubbs--the long hair makes me assume the former--that's probably all the reason you need. I suspect Sheriff Lott is pulling his linen jacket out of the closet even as we speak, to see if the sleeves will still bunch up around his elbows just so. It's probably still too cold for him to pull off the loafers-sans-socks look in Richland County, but by the time the trial rolls around, buddy, look out!

As for Phelps, what this really proves--yet again--is that smoking pot won't ruin your life. It won't stop you from being a world-class athlete, if that's what you're out to do. (Your genetic makeup is going to weigh far heavier on that.) And it won't turn you into someone who lives in his or her parents' basement well into their thirties. Grad school (which occasionally correlates with pot smoking) is more likely to result in that. But neither Phelps nor the millions of others who occasionally smoke marijuana in this country have had their lives ruined by simply smoking it.

A number of them, however, have had their lives ruined by people like Sheriff Lott and this misbegotten war on some people who use drugs. And it's time to bring that to an end.

More Gov't Jobs

I'm actually starting to get offended by the rhetoric about how we need private-sector, not public-sector, jobs from whatever stimulus plan we hatch.


First of all, jobs are jobs and we need them, so let's get them all "stimulated" and into action. But secondly, can I just say that the only people I know who are secure in their jobs are people with government jobs? My friends, family, and students working for private companies or for themselves are getting hosed. Those of us working for the county, state, and country are relatively secure.

So why would private sector jobs be, in these uncertain times, preferable to public sector ones?

And when public money is funneled into the private sector, a certain percentage of that money ends up as "profit" -- it doesn't go to salaries or healthcare or materials or facilities or maintenance or utilities or NUTHIN. It goes to "profit": some "faux capitalists" (who invested no capital, took no risk) just suck it up for sitting on their behinds doing nothing.

Now I'm all for capitalism: people with money should RISK it on well-considered investments, pursue profit and innovation, growth and industry -- fantastic. But when they fail, they need to actually lose; the game can't be rigged against failure. And if they don't actually invest their own money, if they get taxpayer money and then just "preside" over it, they should be paid a salary as a manager and no "profit" should be had.

Which means the whole thing should be public-sector, and the white-collar faux capitalist should go get a good job exercising his skills (assuming he has any, assuming he is not one of the many responsible for the fix we're in) behind the pressboard desk of your basic bureaucrat. Why should con-men and gamblers be treated like CEOs and entrepreneurs? Why should middle-managers be treated like capitalists? 

Why don't the taxpayers just keep our money where we can see it, perhaps? 

Dear David Brooks,

If you're trying for sarcasm, maybe you'd best not, because I don't think you've got the hang of it. I mean, you start off okay:

I’m afraid there are rich people all around the country who are about to suffer similar social self-immolation because they don’t understand that the rules of privileged society have undergone a radical transformation.
That's a decent enough shot at the clueless rich. I mean, by your standards, anyway. I mean, based on what I expect from you given your past writing--not bad.

But what is this?
In the first place, many people in Ward Three suffer from Sublimated Liquidity Rage. As lawyers, TV producers and senior civil servants, they make decent salaries, but 60 percent of their disposable income goes to private school tuition and study abroad trips. They have little left over to spend on themselves, which generates deep and unacknowledged self-pity.

Second, they suffer from what has been called Status-Income Disequilibrium. At work they are flattered and feared. But they still have to go home and clean out the gutters because they can’t afford full-time household help.

Third, they suffer the status rivalries endemic to the upper-middle class. As law school grads, they resent B-school grads. As Washingtonians, they resent New Yorkers. As policy wonks, they resent people with good bone structure.

In short, people in Ward Three disdain three things: cleavage, hunting and dumb people who are richer than they are. Rich people have to learn to adapt to the new power structure if they hope to survive.
Are you really trying to take the upper middle-class to task because they have the temerity to look at their rich neighbors and point out the excess? I'm trying to give you the benefit of the doubt here and look for the sarcasm directed at their own wastefulness, but all I'm getting out of it is "rich people, look out, because the almost-rich, who don't understand just how important you are, are on the warpath against you." I mean, if you're trying to drive a wedge between the haves and the have-mores, I'm all for it, since the haves are useful allies in any class war, and the poor and working classes have taken it in the junk or junk-equivalent for quite some time now. Soak the rich and all that.

But I suspect, Mr. Applebee's Salad bar, that you don't really want to do that. I think you're hoping that your sneering condescension at the group you probably most identify with is your way of telling your fellow upper-middle-classers to know their role, which is to act as a buffer between the dirty unwashed and the super-rich, in the hopes that those same wealthy people will cast a few extra crumbs down your way. And hey, it's worked for you so far. And in the meantime, you provide us bloggers with plenty of material. Good work.

Sincerely,
Incertus

A week ago, I wrote about the upcoming Fort Lauderdale mayor's race, and how a recommendation by current mayor Jim Naugle had caused me to remove at least one, and possibly two people from consideration for me. Well, the maybe on that list just clarified my position.

The four candidates for mayor were asked at a recent Rio Vista candidate-vetting meeting to give their stance on the issue. Jack Seiler told the crowd, which included Naugle, that he was surprised the question was asked, because they should be talking about the future, not the past. He said Naugle's comments "might have been" misstated or taken out of context. Then, in summary, he says, "I think a lot of this was taken out of context."
I understand why Seiler is trying to give Naugle the benefit of the doubt, even though Naugle undercut him by shaking his head "no" when Seiler suggested he might want to have some of those comments back. But it doesn't matter to me, not when there are other, better candidates out there. Here's one--Dean Trantalis is the first guy in the video, and notice how he answered the question about divisions in the community.



You notice how he didn't just leave it at "straight versus gay"? He also pointed out how African-Americans often feel separated from the city government, and how that's a real problem for a city as diverse as this one is. He acknowledges that it's not enough to acknowledges the problems of only one minority group, but that everyone needs to have their needs considered and addressed. That's the kind of person I'm looking for as the next Mayor.

Dear Arizona Residents

My condolences on your football team's loss tonight. Jesus really had it in for you, it seems. I don't know what Pennsylvania offered him in return for tonight's win, but it must have been killer for Jesus to screw with you like that. I mean, to have the refs practically gift the Steelers a field goal by calling two really questionable personal fouls in the third quarter, then let you back in the game and even take the lead on Fitzgerald's terrific run and catch, only to snatch it away at the end? You really must have pissed Him off something serious.

I suggest you find some way to make recompense. Perhaps you could slaughter a fatted calf or something.

Sincerely,
Incertus

Not even the Republican ones. They want their share of the economic stimulus package, whether Democrat or Republican. And who can blame them? The crappy economy has forced governors' hands; they can't deficit spend like the federal government can so when tax revenues decline, they either have to raise taxes or cut services. Those are the only tools at their disposal.

So what does that mean states are facing without federal bailout money? Cutting poor people off of Medicaid. Raising tuition while simultaneously cutting university budgets. Hiring freezes even in essential services like police and fire departments. Putting off road construction and other infrastructure maintenance. Closing parks and libraries and everything else deemed non-essential. You name it, it's on the table right now, unless the states get some federal help.

Charlie Crist isn't stupid--he knows that these cuts aren't going to be popular, even among his "no tax increases" base--so he spent last week working the phones with the Florida Republican delegation trying to get some support for the package. We all see how well that worked out. But he tried, in large part because he had to.

So why didn't the Republicans in the House listen to their governors? Some of it has to do, no doubt, with the fact that Congresspeople aren't as beholden to the members of their state as the governor is--they only represent a small district, and they're really only beholden to the activist faction in that district, since most House districts aren't all that competitive. They can be more partisan because their constituents expect them to be, and since most Congresspeople are more concerned with getting re-elected than with looking at the bigger picture, they're freer to play party politics than governors are. (This is a bipartisan phenomenon, by the way.)

None of the governors in the above article is a better explanation than Louisiana Republican (and darling of the hyper-conservative right) Governor Bobby Jindal.

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, a former member of the House, said he would accept the stimulus money but would have voted against the bill if he were still in Congress.
Different priorities because of different jobs, see? South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford--like Jindal an early conservative favorite for the 2012 Presidential race--is talking tougher, probably with that race in mind. He sounds like a House member.
"It's incumbent on me as one of the nation's governors to speak out against what I believe is ultimately incredibly harmful to the economy, to taxpayers and to the worth of the U.S. dollar," Sanford said in an interview. "This plan is a huge mistake and is going to prolong and deepen this recession."
Like the House Republicans, he's going all-in with the "hope he fails" attitude. If the economy doesn't turn around, he's positioned himself as the guy who took the brave stand early in the crisis, and he can point to the others in the race as those who weren't true believers.

Of course, the people who will suffer in the meantime will be poor South Carolinians, but hey, Sanford is term-limited out anyway. He doesn't have to worry so much about them anymore. Fortunately for us, the likelihood that the economy won't improve at least some in the next 2-3 years is very slim, and Sanford will be left with the "it would have improved more if government hasn't interfered" argument, which is hard to fit on a bumper sticker.

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